The problem with bottom lines…

It looks increasingly unlikely that National will offer Colin Craig an electorate deal in East Coast Bays. Leaving aside the horrible spectre for National of Winston Peters going toe to toe with Mr Craig, leveraging the added publicity to ensure NZ First get over the 5% threshold, and beating Mr Craig in the process, there’s now the added issue of the Conservative Party’s bottom line.

Colin Craig has announced this weekend that introducing binding referenda is a bottom line. Without the promise of binding referenda, the Conservatives will not enter into either a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the concept of binding referenda. The (non-binding) Citizens Initiated Referenda that have taken place in New Zealand have generally been conducted with little informed debate, and have had badly framed questions.*

However, it’s not my personal opinion that matters. It’s the opinion of the National Party that matters here. And National have just had to put up with Labour and the Greens organising a Citizens Initiated Referendum against National’s flagship asset sales policy, with 67.2% of voters voting no to asset sales, and National saying, “Bugger off.” The last thing National would want to do now is turn around and declare support for binding referenda.

And of course, there’s the fairly major issue that, constitutionally speaking, it’s damn near impossible to even introduce binding referenda in this country. For an excellent summary of why, check out Professor Andrew Geddis’ blog post at Pundit.

It all adds up to a very coherent argument for National that it’s better to tell Mr Craig “no deal”, bring down the boot on the Conservative Party’s hopes of getting an electorate seat, and provide no incentive for voters to vote Conservative.

* The anti-smacking referendum question was memorably belittled by John Key, who said it:

“could have been written by Dr Seuss – this isn’t Green Eggs and Ham, this is yes means no and no means yes, but we’re all meant to understand what the referendum means. I think it’s ridiculous myself”.

Likewise, the anti-asset sales referendum question was puzzling for those such as myself who had no ideological opposition to the Government owning only 51% of a power company or airline, but opposed the Government flogging off billions of dollars in shares against Treasury advice that the short sales time frame would over-saturate the market and reduce the financial return for the Government.

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